Review of Kontakt 2
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Review of Kontakt 2

A Good Soft Sampler gets Better

 

I've been using Kontakt 2 for a long while now and I am very impressed and have dug down deep to really learn this piece in all its depth. Kontakt 2 blows away Kontakt 1.5 tremendously.  It rivals any sample playback device on the market, hardware or software.  Just scroll down and look at it now.  And believe it, there is a lot more you don't see in the pic.  Kontakt 2 is loaded with features.  If you are unfamiliar with Kontakt, or soft samplers in general, I suggest you read my review of Kontakt 1.0 first to get the basics of what this product is all about. 
 

The programmers at Native Instruments clearly did some hard thinking about what users need in a soft sampler with this upgrade.  Perhaps the most striking improvement is in the ergonomics of the interface.  I do a lot of sampling and instrument making here at the TweakLab, and I can tell you this interface is a joy to use once you invest the time in learning it.  If you already have used Kontakt, you have a leg up, but don't think you're not going to have to study the manual.  Some of the new stuff, like the new database functions and script editor, go beyond what clicking around can teach you. 
 

The Pros
 

The new database is an attempt to help you solve the problem of access to your samples and instruments, multis and banks, which, if your system is like mine, may cover several partitions on many local and networked drives.  Rather than browse all these directories looking for that long lost choir sample you used in 1997, your database builds a single list of every .wav, aif or Kontakt file you have filtering out everything else.  You can also create a "quickload" menu for those instruments, banks, Multis you use most often.  (This replaces the old "favorites" list).  The database is also searchable, so "choir" for example, finds all the instruments that have choir in the name.  This is nice for finding the best instrument you have when tracking a song.

 

Import Formats: 

 Here's the list from NI. GigaStudio™, Akai™, S-1000™, /S-3000™,  EXS24™,  HALion™,  AIFF,  WAV,  .S™, .SND™,  Emu EOS™/E4B™, EMU™ E3/ESi™, SoundFont2™, REX I & II™,  ACID™, Apple Loops™, Roland S-5x, S-7x™, Akai MPC™, Akai S-5000/S-6000™, MachFive™, Reason NN-XT™, LM4™, LM4™, MKII, SDII™ (Mac) ,  Unity™,  Akai MESA™, Pulsar™ + STS™, Ensoniq™ EPS/ASR™,  Kurzweil™™, Reaktor™ Map, KOMPAKT™, INTAKT™, KONTAKT 1.x™, BATTERY 1 & 2™ 

Quite an exhaustive list.  But as always, don't think they are all going to work flawlessly.  I've tried EXS, EOS, E4B, E3/Esi, and Halion.  The Import modules just got an update with Kontakt's 2.1 update (now available) and its better, but still, probably one of the buggiest part of the system. 

Native's updated compatibility list

 

 

 

In fact, regardless of your sequencer platform, Kontakt2 vies to be a way to tie together all your soft sampler instruments into one interface.  The more high dollar libraries you have, like the Quantum Leap Orchestra libraries, StormDrum,  Colossus,  Quantum Leap's Rare Instruments, etc., the more you will want, no, need to have Kontakt2.  You can mix and match instruments from all these libraries in a single multi, rather that calling up separate (and more limited) GUIs for each instrument.  Logic users who have trouble with Native Instruments stuff will be happy to note that Kontakt 2 passes AUVAL in Logic 7.3 and with OS 10.4, and will load some important NI powered libraries that don't pass AUVAL.
 

Speaking of Libraries, Kontakt 2 comes with a really good one.  15GB if you like to count.  But it isn't just quantity.  You get an excellent selection of the Vienna Symphonic Library, (known as VSL), and they sound beautiful.  Lots of other stuff, something to please everyone
 

You can get an idea from the pic above of where I am on my World Cafe Bank, which is now at about 700 instruments and 1200 samples.  I just ported the whole thing from my e5000 to emulator X, and then from that to Kontakt 2 I took me one day of making sounds in Kontakt 2 to realize its superiority over Emulator X, which is also a very good soft sampler. What makes me say this?
 

In Kontakt 2 I can work really fast and everything is right where I need it. It also allows one to solo individual voices while you work on them--something emulator X cannot do--a minor point for some, but for me, critical. Another cool thing--getting new samples into Kontakt 2 is as easy an dragging them from the finder on my Mac. That feature, coupled with Spotlight in OS X (10.4) makes finding those lost samples on cavernous hard drives--including network drives-easy and fast.
 

Like Emulator X you can go really deep with Kontakt 2, with extraordinary layering, zoning and grouping. There is also a new feature that lets you create banks of up to 128 presets and you can call these up with program change commands from the sequencer.  These banks give you yet another way to organize your libraries.  You can put all your French horns, for example, from every library, in one bank where you can quickly audition them, then hit the "purge" function to remove the unused ones from memory.


Another huge feature in Kontakt 2 is you can create loops within your samples really well. The program gives you audio feedback as you move loop points, just like the hardware samplers do. So you can hear those clicks and pops which are the roadmap to finding the perfect loop points. Plus crossfade looping is fast. By the time you get done punching in the value, its done! Its just as good as the Emagic EXS here but the parameter is easier to access. There's also little niceties like a loop tuner and a master reference tone is just a click away, making the hardest job of sampling--tuning--much easier.
 

In Use:  I use Kontakt 2 in Logic Pro and in Cubase SX.  Both work fine with Kontakt2.  Have not tried Sonar yet.  One thing about SX, when you launch Kontakt 2, it creates all the midi and audio channel strips automatically.  In Logic it works like all other software instruments.  If you want multiple outs, you have to create them in the environment.  Its not automatic.  

Works with Kore:  Kontakt 2 can save presets into Kore's database if you want to see them show up in lists with the presets from your other software instruments.  Kore comes with the Kontakt 2 library already setup in Kore.

 

The Cons
 

Of course every sampler has drawbacks. Like many NI products, Kontakt 2 has a goodly share of bugs, particularly on its new bold features like the Script Editor (which includes some very cool things like arpeggiators, a drum pattern sequencer, chord generator, glissando maker, and more) for the serious tweakers among us.  I know I am not the only one irritated by NI's tendancy to release stuff chock full of bugs, but the features in this case are so good I can forgive them (again).  However, don't go tweaking too deep running Kontakt 2 as a plugin.  Do your heavy lifting in stand alone mode, and just use Kontakt 2's presets and do light tweaks in your sequencer for best results.  (Note: updates have improved Kontakt 2 stability).

Perhaps the most aggravating (though not a deal killer) is that the import filters for emu format miss a lot of parameters. But as usual the maps come out fine, filters, velocity, and some envelopes come out strange. Loop points carry over but with the loop turned off in many cases. Importing from EXS is much better. So if you are a big user of emu cd roms, port over to EXS first with translator, then drive it home to .NKI in Kontakt. Might save a few thousand tweaks or so.

Finally, I have to mention the problem with font size, which they enlarged in 1.5.  Now they are tiny again.  C'mon NI guys, try to read these on a big 23" monitor at native resolution. (ed note:  they may have listened, an update to Kontakt 2 again restored larger fonts).  Fortunately, you can drag and drop from your computer's directories.  So I made a huge fonted directory in the Mac's Finder using a "saved search" in Spotlight.  That made me happy! 
 

Summing Up
 

So how does it work overall?  Its great.  Fast.  Deep.  Fun!  Great sounds, and if you like to tweak, great possibilities.  Hats off to the programmers at NI for bringing us a great product.

Want to talk about Kontakt 2?  Go to the Kontakt 2 topic at Studio-Central.

 

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